This past Sunday’s sermon considered Jesus’ command, “Do not resist an evil person.” The big idea of His teaching here is that the people of God should be the kind of people who refuse personal revenge and retribution, both in their actions and in their hearts. Christians should be a people who show endless mercy and forgiveness, not getting hung up on their rights or privileges, but willing to give up their rights and privileges.
But diving into this topic quickly causes us to feel some tension: Shouldn’t we care about justice and long to see evil overcome? How can we “not resist an evil person” while still fighting for justice? These are appropriate questions, and ones we proposed some answers to in the sermon.
While there is much to say in response to these questions, perhaps the most important thing for the Christian is to have a firm belief in judgment day. As counter intuitive as it may seem, a belief that God will justly judge the world allows Christians to suspend justice in their personal lives (which is what you are doing when you show mercy and don’t retaliate). If God will judge, we don’t have to ensure every injustice done to us is revenged.
This is what Paul is getting at in Romans 12:19: “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.”
John Stott explains this verse, and the tension Christians feel when they choose not to retaliate:
“It will be seen that Paul’s prohibition of vengeance is not because retribution is in itself wrong, but because it is the prerogative of God, not man. ‘Vengeance is mine,’ says the Lord. His purpose is to express his wrath or vengeance now through the law courts, and finally on the day of judgment. This difference of God-given function between two ‘servants of God’—the state to punish the evildoer, the individual Christian not to repay evil for evil, but to overcome evil with good—is bound to create a painful tension in all of us, specially because all of us in different degrees are both individuals and citizens of the state, and therefore share in both functions. For example, if my house is burgled one night and I catch the thief, it may well be my duty to sit him down and give him something to eat and drink, while at the same time telephoning the police…Jesus was not prohibiting the administration of justice, but rather forbidding us to take the law into our own hands.”
God is just. But He is also merciful. Yet this presents a problem because mercy is a suspending of justice. Yet in the death of Jesus, we see God being perfectly just in punishing our sin, and incredibly merciful, in taking the punishment that we deserved on himself. In this one historical event, perfect justice and perfect mercy met.
And so all sin and evil in the world is either justly judged in the death of Jesus or on the coming day of judgment. But there will be justice one way or another!
And seeing that God is both just and merciful is critical for us being people of mercy. His final justice motivates us to leave retribution to him; his great mercy towards us when we deserved only punishment and wrath motivates us to show mercy to those who hurt, insult, or offend us.